Studying Physicians' Use of Electronic Health Records - and Their Benefits

Dates of Project: May 2011 through April 2014

Description: A Boston-based research team designed and implemented a national survey of primary care and specialist physicians on their use of electronic health records (EHRs). The purpose was to track and evaluate the extent to which adoption of this new technology translates into improved patient management.

The project sought to find out what proportion of physicians meet meaningful use criteria set by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to ensure EHRs are used to assess and manage their patient populations. Meaningful use criteria include such things as viewing laboratory results, ordering prescriptions, viewing radiology or imaging results, and recording clinical notes.

The survey consisted of two waves of mailed questionnaires, the first in late 2011–early 2012, the second in 2013.

Key Findings

  • Of the 1,820 physicians who responded to the first survey wave, 43.5 percent reported having a basic EHR, but only 9.8 percent achieved meaningful use.
  • However, a larger percentage of physicians met some meaningful use criteria. Among primary care physicians, 40.5 percent achieved between 8 and 10 of the 11 core functions selected by the team to define meaningful use. For specialists, it was 36.5 percent.
  • Among physicians who were close to achieving—but had not achieved—meaningful use, three functions were the most challenging to adopt:
    • Exchanging patient clinical summaries and laboratory and diagnostic test results with providers outside the practice
    • Generating quality metrics
    • Providing patients with after-visit summaries and copies of their health information
  • Less than half of the respondent physicians (44.4%) reported having a computerized system that could generate patient lists by diagnosis.
  • A substantial proportion of physicians reported difficulty using their computerized systems for certain patient management purposes.
  • Physicians with “basic EHRs are more likely than those without basic EHRs to report always receiving timely communication about patient referrals, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations.”

CITATION: DesRoches CM, Audet AM, Painter M, Donelan K. “Meeting Meaningful Use Criteria and Managing Patient Populations: A National Survey of Practicing Physicians.” Annals of Internal Medicine, 158(11): 791–799, 2013. Abstract available online.

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43.5% of the surveyed physicians had a basic #EHR, but only 9.8% met meaningful use criteria for EHRs.